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Patti Smith speaking into a microphone with her arm raised in a fist

43 Literary Recommendations From Patti Smith


With a list of predominantly English and French-language writers, the godmother of punk is a highly informed reader.

Patti Smith possesses that strange form of intelligence in which, rather than the emotional and the intellectual eclipsing each other, they mutually enlighten each other. In this sense it could be argued that what Patti Smith did for punk, Charles Baudelaire did for poetry. However, Smith’s literary model is “Jo,” the headstrong artist of the family in L.M. Alcott’s Little Women, as her literary tastes are closer to adventures and explorers who get their own way than those of the poètes maudits.

Through her own books (such as her memoir Just Kids), Patti Smith has set out some preferences and authentic literary obsessions, with poets such as Arthur Rimbaud, and more recently two writers from South America, César Aira and Roberto Bolaño. Smith described Bolaño’s novel 2666 as the first masterpiece of the 21st century.

Reading lists (like this one from Borges) or what an artist has to say about themselves as a reader (like Virginia Woolf) are a curiosity and a channel of communication between their work and that which inspires their creation.

Here are some more literary recommendations from the great Patti Smith:

  1. The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov
  2. Journey to the East, by Hermann Hesse
  3. The Glass Bead Game, by Hermann Hesse
  4. Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad
  5. Moby Dick, by Herman Melville
  6. “Billy Budd” by Herman Melville
  7. Songs of Innocence and Experience, by William Blake
  8. The Wild Boys, by William Burroughs
  9. “Howl”, by Allen Ginsberg
  10. “A Season in Hell”, by Arthur Rimbaud
  11. Wittgenstein’s Poker, by David Edmonds and John Eidinow
  12. Villete, by Charlotte Brönte
  13. The Process, by Brion Gysin
  14. Cain’s Book, by Alexander Trocchi
  15. Coriolanus, by William Shakespeare
  16. The Happy Prince, by Oscar Wilde
  17. The Sheltering Sky, by Paul Bowles
  18. “Against Interpretation”, by Susan Sontag
  19. The Oblivion Seekers (translated into English by Paul Bowles), by Isabelle Everhardt
  20. The Women of Cairo, by Gérard de Nerval
  21. Under the Volcano, by Malcolm Lowry
  22. Dead Souls, by Nikolai Gogol
  23. The Book of Disquiet, by Fernando Pessoa
  24. The Death of Virgil, by Hermann Broch
  25. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, by J.D. Salinger
  26. Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger
  27. The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  28. A Night of Serious Drinking, by René Daumal
  29. In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower, by Marcel Proust
  30. A Happy Death, by Albert Camus
  31. The First Man, by Albert Camus
  32. The Waves, by Virginia Woolf
  33. Big Sur, by Jack Kerouac
  34. Anything by H.P. Lovecraft
  35. Anything by W.G. Sebald
  36. The Thief’s Journal, by Jean Genet
  37. Arcades Project, or anything by Walter Benjamin
  38. “Poet in New York”, by Federico García Lorca
  39. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, by Heinrich Böll
  40. The Palm-Wine Drinkard, by Amos Tutuola
  41. Ice, or anything by Anna Kavan
  42. The Divine Proportion, by H.E. Huntley
  43. Nadja, by André Breton

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